Tampa International Airport is losing a direct flight to London.
Norwegian Air Shuttle announced Thursday that in the wake of struggles brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it will focus its business on short-haul flights within Europe, rather than long-haul flights to destinations such as the United States.
That means that a popular low-cost flight between Tampa and London’s Gatwick Airport, which has picked up consistent passenger traffic since debuting in 2018, will not continue.
“Our short-haul network has always been the backbone of Norwegian and will form the basis of a future resilient business model,” Norwegian CEO Jacob Schram said in a statement.
The company’s decision stems from its decision to reorganize by reducing its debt and cutting the size of its fleet. The company has laid off thousands of employees since last spring.
While most international travel is on hold, the loss of a direct route from Tampa to London will have a ripple impact on the local economy. The United Kingdom has long been a top source of overseas tourism in Tampa Bay.
Steve Hayes, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, said the demand for a nonstop London-to-Tampa flight could prompt Norwegian or another carrier to return to the market after the pandemic, as long-haul international travel becomes easier.
“Right now, you can’t fly from London to here, so it doesn’t really matter,” Hayes said. “When we talk to travel trade (organizations) over in Europe, in England, they’re waiting. They’re just waiting for someone to wave the green flag and say, ‘Come on back.’”
Norwegian operated a small percentage of overall flights at Tampa International Airport, but was still one of the hub’s fastest-growing carriers.
In 2019, 61,064 passengers flew Norwegian through Tampa, up from just 9,798 during its first year in 2018. More than 12,000 people flew Norwegian from January to March 2020, before the pandemic shut down most international air travel.
Norwegian’s announcement leaves British Airways as the only carrier with direct flights between Tampa and London, although those flights are still on hold. British Airways lists a tentative return date of March 1 for those flights, a date that is subject to change.
“We may have to kind of start from scratch to build back up to where we were, but it’s going to be based on the product that’s available, and who’s going to have the aircraft and the seats,” Hayes said. “In talking to Tampa International, they’re excited to get back to whatever the new normal is in relation to our international flights.”